Fanny Lye Deliver’d

Streaming as part of EDFILMFEST AT HOME brought to you by EIFF and Curzon Home Cinema (CHC)

Thomas Clay’s long-awaited (it’s taken around 4 years to get a release) movie is one of those films that you hope to find at a Festival. Something that will stay with you, and will live long in the public imagination.

Fanny Lye Deliver’d should, I think have a future as cult favourite, even if the world we find ourselves in these days mitigates against box office success. An atmospheric mix of 17th Century home invasion and western, it fits perfectly into the folk-horror genre, in the footsteps of the likes of Witchfinder General, for which it displays some reverence.

Captain John Lye (Charles Dance) and his wife Fanny (Maxine Peake) live with their young son on a remote Shropshire farm. Once an officer in Cromwell’s army, he rules his family with an unforgiving hand and a Puritan’s devotion to the church that has more in common with the love of law than the love of Christ.

Their existence is disturbed when, on returning from church, they find a young couple, naked and injured, who claim to have been set upon and robbed, and ask for shelter. Despite his justified uncertainty over the truth of their story, Lye allows Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) to stay overnight.

The arrival next day of the High Sheriff and his deputy, in search of blasphemers – or fornicators, or, in fact, anyone they can find guilty of anything that will allow them to mete out punishment as an example of their power.

A stand-off ensues, and John and Fanny are forced to allow the young couple to remain. Given the obvious nature of the Sheriff, the family are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

This sets the scene for a power struggle between Lye and Thomas, the Puritan and a man who preaches religious, moral and sexual freedom in Christ’s name. Fanny gradually progresses from being alarmed to intrigued to seduced by this alternative outlook on life. The cast are exemplary, Peake in particular. The changes in her situation flicker briefly across her face and carry the tale forward in the periods of quiet between storms. Gradually she comes to believe that maybe there could be a different world, one where women have the same rights as men and where God is a God of love, rather than punishment. One to which Fanny Lye is eventually Deliver’d, although she has a brutal climactic ordeal to suffer before that.

Beautifully made, the farmhouse set built for the film, and the surrounding countryside shrouded in mist are vital members of the cast, too. The impressive score is played on period instruments, and it, too adds an authenticity to the proceedings.

My favourite of the festival so far, and there’s been some strong competition.

In addition to being released on Curzon home Cinema as part of EIFF at Home, this film will be available on BFI Player, Sky, Virgin, Amazon, Rakuten, iTunes, BT, Google, Microsoft, Playstation and Volta.

Jim Welsh

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